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TODAY’S FRANCE Cognac Courts Bartenders

Posted on  | January 21, 2014   Bookmark and Share
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With Cognac’s classic usage—after-dinner sipping—joined by its revitalization as an urban on-premise call, the U.S. sits as the single largest importer of Cognac—and still growing, with volume up 8.7% for the year ending July 2013.

Next, the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC) aims to elevate this rarified spirit’s role in cocktails.

It’s a lesson that bartenders once knew well. Cognac graced the Sazerac in 1830; gave us the breath-freshening Stinger in the turn of the 19th century New York; spawned the Prohibition-era Sidecar in France; and even appears in a 1930 version of the Mojito. Despite efforts by brands in recent years, like the Hennessy Martini, Cognac-based cocktails have never quite recovered from a dropoff in the 1940s, as spirits like whisky and rum, and later vodka, came to dominate the mixing glass.

Outreach to bartenders has been happening at the major cocktail events across the U.S. Hosted by highly qualified educators, like Portland-based Hoke Harden of Elixir Vitae Wine & Spirits Consultants, bartenders are immersed in the methods and nomenclature of Cognac, including aging regulations for VS, VSOP and XO designations, as well as tutored tastings of eight to 10 brands.

However, Harden says the moment of revelation usually comes when they learn Cognac isn’t suitable only for neat sipping. “Less experienced bartenders are not aware of the flexibility and complexity that Cognac can bring to a cocktail, its innate friendliness as a fruit-based spirit to other fruits, and spices, and herbs,” says Harden. “It is in the nature of Cognac to be harmonious, rather than dominating, as a whiskey might be. Cognac is a prime mixing spirit. Cognac plays well with others in a cocktail.”


With strict production requirements, Cognac has long assumed the price that comes with a premium spirit, but that too is changing, notes Harden. At the same time, there is an equally wide range of emerging styles, many targeted to mixologists. Pierre Ferrand “Original 1840,” was modeled on a rare and well-preserved bottle of Pinet-Castillon Cognac from the year 1840 in collaboration with cocktail historian David Wondrich. While “1840” boasts 90 proof, to better stand up in mixed drink, Louis Royer’s “Force 53,” introduced three years ago, shows even more fortitude with 53% ABV. “During the Golden Age of the Cocktail in the 19th century, the Cognac available in the U.S. was generally at a significantly higher proof than the current 40% ABV,” explains Export Director Philippe Pichetto.

Courvoisier has taken a page from successful liqueurs like Hpnotiq and Alizé to create house-branded combinations of Cognac and wine, including Courvoisier Rosé and Courvoisier Gold (with Moscato), along with introducing the more entry-level Courvoisier C, with its youthful profile and pronounced oak.

Franky Marshall, Vice President, United States Bartender’s Guild of New York, attended the Cognac education seminars and is on track to become a certified educator herself. “There are so many different expressions of Cognac now. Taste them, even the ones you think you already know, and reacquaint your palate,” advises Marshall.


The Chanticleer  (Source: New York Sunday Mercury via New Orleans Daily Picayune, 1843; adapted by David Wondrich)

Put 1 barspoon/5 ml superfine or caster sugar in a small tumbler.
Add 1 barspoon/5 ml water and stir to dissolve sugar.
Add 2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters or The Bitter Truth Creole Bitters
Add 1 dash absinthe
Add 2 ounces/60 ml Pierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula

Fill glass with cracked ice and stir. Twist lemon peel over the top and serve.


Original Cognac Cocktail  (Adapted by David Wondrich from Jerry Thomas, Bar-Tenders’ Guide, 1862)

In a mixing glass, stir ½ teaspoon/3 ml of superfine sugar with1 teaspoon/5 ml water until sugar has dissolved.
2 oz/60 ml Pierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula,
1 teaspoon/5 ml orange liqueur, such as Mathilde Orange X.O. Liqueur
2-3 dashes aromatic bitters, such as Fee’s Whiskey barrel Bitters, The Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters or Angostura bitters
Fill glass with cracked ice, stir well and strain

Fill glass with cracked ice, stir well and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Twist lemon peel over the top. For an Improved Cognac Cocktail, substitute maraschino liqueur for the orange liqueur and add a dash (or 3 or 4 drops) of absinthe.

The Wayside by Pamela Wiznitzer of The Dead Rabbit

1 ½ oz Louis Royer “Force 53” VSOP Cognac
¾ oz Lemon Juice
½ oz Honey Water
1 oz Chai Tea
¾ oz Dolin Sweet Vermouth

Combine ingredients into a shaker with ice.  Shake well and strain over a large ice cube in an old fashioned glass.  Garnish with a lemon twist with oils expressed on top.


Belclare Cocktail, by Franky Marshall, for Grace, NYC

1 ½ oz. Louis Royer “Force 53″ VSOP Cognac
¾ oz. Combier Crème de Pamplemousse Rose grapefruit liqueur
½ oz. Marie Brizard white crème de cacao liqueur
¼ oz. Pernod Absinthe
1 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in mixing glass. Add ice and shake. Strain into a Martini or coupe glass.


Orchard in Manhattan by Sother Teague of Amor y Amargo

1 ½ oz Louis Royer “Force 53” VSOP Cognac
1 oz Cocchi Americano
½ oz Apple Brandy
¼ oz Becherovka
2 dashes Bar Keep Apple Bitters

Build ingredients in a mixing glass, shake and strain into a martini glass.




Links to other Today’s France stories

Selling French Wine in the 21st Century
Cocktails With French Flair


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